The death of a family member is more than painful; the absence of a parent or a child throws the entire family out of kilter. Roles are changed, schedules must be realigned, and financial circumstances may be greatly altered. The middle child may now be the youngest, or the eldest child may become an only child. How does one manage the car pool with just one parent? What should be done with the extra kitchen chair that is a constant reminder of loss at every meal?

When a family member dies, the family rhythm is out of whack. Some routines will be comforting while others will no longer work and the family will need to establish a new normal.

How do you help a family that is grieving the loss of a mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter?

In the early years following my father’s death, we spent our Sundays with my aunt and uncle. We’d gather our belongings Sunday morning, and my mother handled the one-hour drive to their home. The children scattered upon arrival while my mother and aunt gravitated toward the kitchen and caught up over coffee. They prepared dinner, chatting away the afternoon. It was decades before I understood how much my mother needed her older sister’s support as she navigated life as a single working mom at a time when she had few peers. Those Sundays with her sister must have given my mom the fuel to get through another week. What I remember most about those days was the constant of family and routine; it gave a pattern to our weeks until it felt like a normal part of life.

A neighbor whose daughter died found former routines painful. She discontinued many family traditions and avoided friends whose children were similar ages to the child she lost. She felt the need to change her life completely so that she was not constantly reminded of her daughter’s death. Over time she told her friends that if they wanted to stay connected, they would need to find new ways to do so. Some of them were willing to work with her and created new routines to retain their friendship.

It can be very hard to stay connected with family or friends devastated by a family member’s death. They will need time to grieve and reshape their lives. Your patience and ability to show flexibility in providing needed support will keep you connected while helping the family move forward.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

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Comment by Melinda CANDACE Guinn on August 15, 2014 at 8:43am

My only child, Candace, who had just turned 30 yrs old passed. When I got that phone call my world came crashing down. It's been unhinged ever since, and so have I! She's my LIFE! I moved out of state to be near her, I love her so very much! You'd think I'd bet it together by now, she left me and her husband and three little girls on 4/09/10. At least I have her girls!They're beeing raised by their Dad's parents. I call them and send cards. They're good polite girls. Getting big now, it's been so long;but it just happened!?

Comment by Mark Moran on August 11, 2014 at 3:16pm

American Academy of Grief

Excellent article.  The entire family dynamic is set out of function.  In the case of my grandmother, the Matriarch of the family was removed.  New roles, new responsibilities were given that before were not imagined.   With her gone, Sunday lunch was a distant memory.  How would the family adapt to the new hierarchal changes, new routines, and most importantly missing her?

This death only occurred a month ago and it still stings and I think there is fear the family wlll lose unity, but many of my aunts and mother are working close, checking on each other and trying to do things together.  It will be a rough year for sure

Mark Moran, GC-C

American Academy of Grief

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